Friday, August 27, 2010

The Road to Real Fruit Vinegars

I've been fascinated by the few reports I have read about Real [Fruit] Vinegars ... those are NOT the fruit or herb flavored vinegars [other than Bragg's Raw Apple Cider Vinegar] we usually find in our stores in the US. Apparently there are a few stores who import these luscious vinegars from France, Italy and Spain where they are more commonly made, but the purchase cost is higher than a bottle of fine wine.

The process to make real vinegars from fruit is to first make fruit wine. Then you expose the wine to oxygen where the acetobacter convert the alcohol to acetic acid. Actually, the process to make any real vinegar is to first make the substance into a wine, then convert the alcohol in it to acetic acid. Quickly distilling GMO corn or corn by-products into vinegar may give you a good product to use as a household cleaning product, but there are far better options of vinegars for foods.

One important distinction besides the taste is the health benefits of the nutrients in the vinegars. When wines are bottled, sulphites are added to kill the bacteria and stop any residual fermentation, and act as a preservative. If you have bought Bragg's Raw Apple Cider Vinegar (or made your own vinegar) you will notice a "mother" in the vinegar. That's a product of the action of the acetic acid bacteria on the alcohol where no sulphites have been added to kill the good bacteria. It is harmless (but alive). Real apple cider vinegar retains all the nutritional goodness of the apples from which it was made,  plus it is fortified with the enzymes produced during the two fermentation steps. The same is true of any fruit fermented into real vinegar.

The photo above is blueberry wine on the left, and plum on the right. I made both of these from what winemakers call 'seconds'... that is, the second brewing of the same fruit pulp after the first batch has been drawn off. Not being a winemaker myself, it will be interesting to see if I have successfully made wine at all! Those bottles will be left to 'age' for several months, and then I will siphon the liquid into jars with a large mouth, and cover the mouth with cheesecloth to keep out dust and bugs but allow contact with oxygen to convert the alcohol.

In my freezer I have enough red raspberries to start fermenting a 3 gallon (or more) batch of wine from scratch, and I have higher hopes of success in making wine than with the jugs above. If I actually succeed in making a drinkable wine, most of it will be bottled for friends since I don't drink. The rest will get converted to vinegar.

I'm also hoping to find enough elderberries left this year to start a gallon of elderberry wine. I used all the elderberries I had picked to make an elderberry syrup for colds and flu before I thought to save some for wine.

I have an invitation to visit a cidery when apples ripen, and I'm hoping to buy some just-pressed juice to make some hard apple cider, which will ultimately become raw apple cider vinegar. I use a lot of Bragg's and it would be nice to make my own, but buying a cider press is out of the question financially.

One of the apples I hope to find for cider is an heirloom crab apple "Virginia Hewe's Crab" Thomas Jefferson grew in his North Orchard at Monticello for cider. Someone discovered one growing somewhere in Virginia several years ago and has been grafting lots of new crab apple trees from it. The old cider made in England and Colonial America was a mix of sweet and bitter apples; most of those heirloom apple varieties are long gone since cider fell out of favor as a beverage, and they did not make a good eating apple.

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